Trump and the ladies: An imperfect and enduring match

In April of 2016 I wrote an opinion piece for the New York Daily News. It was headlined “Hillary Clinton’s gender is not a weapon: She needs to be careful as she tries to rally women against Donald Trump.”

I was particularly proud of this article. I had been asked to write it as the Sunday feature, which felt like a really big deal. I made sure to stack it with data, letting very little emotion get in the way of my argument on a topic that is very emotional to me.

My piece was pretty well received, earning me a lot of feedback like “hope Hillary reads this” from Hillary supporters and “hope Hillary doesn’t see this” from Hillary haters.

All of this made me feel like I’d contributed to the national conversation in a meaningful way and helped focus an increasingly excited liberal base on the serious challenge that lay ahead.

We all know how that turned out.

Indeed, the challenge was even more serious than I thought, as we hadn’t scraped the surface of Trump’s sexism and misogyny. It would be months before we would hear his voice on that “Access Hollywood” tape bragging to Billy Bush that he “moved on her like a b----” and that he could come up to women and “grab ’em by the p----. You can do anything.”

I still have to believe that at their core, Trump supporters knew this wasn’t just locker room talk. The reality is, though, that the “Access Hollywood” tape shocked America for like 30 seconds.

Christian conservatives like Mike Pence were able to move on. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio somehow found a way to still look at their wives and daughters and support Trump. And lots of women – many of whom must be victims of sexual assault when you look at the statistics – checked that box for Trump just a month later.

The release of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta helped dilute the impact of the “Access Hollywood” tape (thanks, Russia!). And then, of course, the letter from FBI Director James Comey about Clinton campaign aide Huma Abedin’s emails winding up on the laptop of her husband, Anthony Weiner, did its part.

But the reality is there wasn’t a reckoning for women with Trump in 2016 that would sink him. And I doubt there will be in 2018 or 2020.

To this point, a January FiveThirtyEight analysis finds that the gender gap that existed in the 2016 election persists a year later. It’s a lot bigger than it was for George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but that’s no surprise.

And the gap is across all parties, which is also not a surprise. College-educated voters still approve of President Trump less than those without a degree. And those in the Midwest and South still like the president more than those in the Northeast and the West.

What does this mean? That even before the tax cut came into effect, President Trump was no worse off with women than he was when he won the election.

Think about that. At a moment in time when the #MeToo movement is the top story on any given day, when we’re flush with horror stories of prominent men allegedly abusing women, and when Democrats are often bringing up the fact that 19 women have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct, the president is no worse off with women.

It took eight days of the Rob Porter scandal for President Trump to finally say “I’m opposed to domestic violence and everybody here knows that” after being a veritable cheerleader for the fired White House official’s innocence just days before.

We found out that Trump’s lawyer personally paid a porn star $130,000, reportedly to cover up an alleged affair after the birth of Trump’s only child with his wife, Melania. And lest we forget, President Trump backed Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race. Moore is an alleged child molester who couldn’t even get deep red Alabama to back him over an openly pro-choice Democrat.

Consider this astounding Quinnipiac Poll result from just a couple weeks ago. By a ratio of 72 percent to 22 percent, Republicans think Trump is a good role model. Some 82 percent say he shares their values and 80 percent say he provides the United States with moral leadership.

Now think back to what many believe was the best ad of the 2016 campaign, Hillary’s ad “Role Models.” Seeing young children listen to Trump as he insults women and minorities pulls on the heartstrings and especially affects women. Call me sexist, but women are moms and you know the drill.

But that ad didn’t matter in the end. A leader who treats others like you’d want to be treated and, crucially, want your children be treated, wasn’t attractive enough to overcome the promise of tax cuts and a conservative Supreme Court justice. And when you consider the shrinking advantage for Democrats in the generic ballot – it’s down to four points! – the role models ad certainly wouldn’t matter today.

It’s this reality that makes it hard for me to believe smart pieces like David Remnick’s “A Reckoning With Women Awaits Trump” in The New Yorkers.

Remnick even quotes fired White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon who, according to the preeminent Steve Bannon scholar Joshua Green, said: “You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch. This is a definitional moment in the culture. It’ll never be the same going forward … The anti-patriarchy movement is going to undo ten thousand years of recorded history.”

Green said the Bannon comment came while watching the women at the Golden Globes awards ceremony wearing black to commemorate the #MeToo movement.

Props to Bannon for acknowledging the importance of this movement, but I still find it nearly impossible to believe that there will be any reckoning, especially at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Democrats can win an election by running on women's issues, but a “woman card” isn’t a good party favor this time around.

What I wrote back in April 2016 still holds: the current political landscape doesn’t allow for us to use the term women’s issues anymore.

Republicans have turned the “war on women” on its head and made it out like Democrats don’t know that every issue is a women’s issue – from a fair economy with opportunity for everyone, to universal access to health care, to affordable housing, to safe communities and good schools, to sexual assault and workplace dignity. These are all women's issues too, and Democrats have winning arguments on all of them.

Cordoning "women's issues" off into a parochial set of policy priorities is a serious misjudgment of how women actually decide whom to vote for, and a mistake the Democratic Party cannot continue to make.

If we only pay attention to that small space, we’ll fall into the same trap we did in 2016, thinking that anything Trump says matters. It just doesn’t, once people notice their take-home pay is higher, regardless of what the long-term effects of this might be.

Jessica Tarlov currently serves as a contributor for FOX News Channel (FNC), offering political analysis and insight across FNC and FOX Business Network’s (FBN) daytime and primetime programming. She joined the network in 2017.